Friday, December 28, 2007

true courage

They're common images. You see them on billboards, in magazines and on television. And they tell you that true courage looks something like this: a plunge down a waterfall in an easy-to-roll kayak, traversing snow an ice on the side of a mountain, or maybe it looks like the football player who makes an incredible catch only to be knocked flat by his opponent. These are the pictures of true courage.

But a couple nights ago, I got to spend time with some people who re-define 'courage'. We were on-staff together at a church in Plymouth, and they now live in Chicago. Dave and Angie moved to Chicago because they felt God was leading them to start a church there. So, three years ago, they sold their house and away they went. They didn't build a "church planting team", they didn't raise support. They just moved, and focused their time and energy on building relationships with the people in and around their neighborhood. Now, three years later, incredible things are happening. There is a church where before there was none. But it's not a typical "Sunday service" type church. It's simply a gathering of people who are trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Some have made decisions to become followers, others haven't yet. But each week, they get together to talk, encourage and challenge one another. Throughout the week they eat together, their kids play together, they study the bible together. It's a true community.

Sitting and talking with them on Wednesday night, I heard story after story that gave evidence of God's hand in their work. From Dave's job to the remodeling of their house to the ways they came in contact with certain people; it's a 3-year declaration that God will come through if we're willing to be truly brave. Dave and Angie take more risks than just about anyone I know, and each time they do, God does something awesome. Of course, the other half of the equation is that - not only are they willing to take risks - but they are also willing to let God work things out in whatever way He thinks is best.

Their way of life means that they often have unique perspectives on everything from work to ministry to relationships. Perspectives that are refreshing and encouraging, and challenge me to take more risks in my own life.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Here I am

Jesus, here I am, Your favorite one.
What are You thinking?
What are You feeling?
I have to know.

Jesus, here I am, Your favorite one.
What are You thinking?
What are You feeling?
I have to know.

For I am after Your heart.
I'm after Your heart.
I'm after You.

-Favorite One, by Misty Edwards

Monday, December 17, 2007

The practice of patience

or maybe it's the patience of practice.

About six weeks ago (two months?) I started taking piano lessons. It's been a lot of fun, but also challenging. I played the flute when I was in grade school, and I have fiddled around with the guitar for a couple of years, so reading music, practicing, and all the other things that come with learning an instrument aren't new to me. But the piano is new. And lessons with a (very good) teacher who expects improvement... that's new. I've been forced to sit diligently at the piano nearly every day, working on scales, triads, an actual songs. At some points, I get so frustrated. Either the music looks like a foreign language to me or I know what I'm seeing but can't make it translate through my fingers and onto the keys.

A couple weeks ago, my piano teacher threw in a new element... the foot pedal. I'm playing a very simple version of 'Silent Night' for an upcoming recital and she insisted that the pedal would help fill out the song and make it sound less elementary - which is good. But I couldn't quite get how I was supposed to use it. I was still struggling to just learn how to play the song... so when she added this little extra... my brain just wasn't ready. I think she sensed my frustration because she had me watch her play so I could understand the rhythm of the pedal. Once I saw her do it, it made so much sense and actually seemed quite simple. So I started practicing with the pedal.

It was a struggle to make everything work together like it's supposed to.. hands and feet (hands and 'foot', I guess...) and there were many times that I got really frustrated. But then.. this past Saturday, I was practicing and it all just seemed to come together. And it felt good.

I liked playing the flute in grade school, and I like playing around with the guitar, but there's something about playing an instrument that requires the use of more than just the hands... The more I practice the piano the more I learn that certain movements allow me to play better, reach the right keys more easily, etc. It's like you're playing music with your whole body, and I'm loving it. (It makes me think that I might enjoy learning to play the drums....) :)

Tomorrow night is the recital. My first ever. I'm finally feeling confident enough about my playing to be excited instead of just nervous. It's going to be really fun.

Over the last few weeks, I feel as though God has used these lessons and the practicing that goes with them to remind me of the enormous benefit of baby steps. I would get frustrated because I wanted to be able to sit at the piano and just play, without having to try and figure out what notes are on the page and where to find them. I would get frustrated because it felt like my fingers were just doing their own thing... or were twisted up and somehow physically unable to hit the right keys. But there's been progress... and it's very satisfying.

Indeed, every mountain (and even every molehill) is climbed one step at a time. And there's deep satisfaction in moving forward just enough to be able to take the next step.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

those who are left behind

One week ago today my grandpa died. Kind of an abrupt beginning to a blog post, I suppose, but my ability to 'wax eloquent' is hindered at the moment.

One week ago today, he was on his way to dinner and had a heart attack. Not his first unfortunately.

Grandpa was 91 years old. He spent most of his life working on, owning, and running farms. Crops, cattle, chicken... that was my grandpa's life. And he loved it. He was always happiest when he was active and working. To give you an example... he had his first open heart surgery when he was 65-yrs-old. Two weeks after he was released from the hospital, he began remodeling his house. And I'm not just talking new floors and updated furniture. He knocked down walls, tore out electrical systems.... Now those of you who know me know where I get it from. :)

"Work" was never a bad word in my family. It was always seen as our chance to add something of value to the world. And it was always something we did together and for each other, which made it less like work and more like play. My childhood memories are filled with images of walking cornfields looking for weeds or bugs, helping water the trees and mow the yard (which doesn't sound like much work, but my grandparents owned an 85-acre farm), tend the garden (which was a full acre in size).

Grandpa also had a woodworking shop where he fixed and made things like tables, chairs, shelves, etc. I used to love hanging out there with him. The shop always smelled like sawdust. And in the winter, fire from the wood burning stove added warmth, while the smoke mixed with the sawdust to create an unmistakable smell that - to this day - reminds me of that little shop.

Grandpa's work kept him young, and when his body couldn't keep up with his mind anymore, the light in his eyes started to fade. It was hard to watch.

Now we've entered that bittersweet season of knowing his body is once again strong, but also knowing that it's going to be a long time before we hear his voice, or feel the warmth of his hug again.

Some moments, like now, are more bitter than sweet. I would never wish for my grandpa to have to continue living in such a weakened state. He simply wasn't happy. I would - however - wish for one more day, one more chance to look him in the eye and say 'I love you'.